The duties for a neonatal nurse may vary slightly at each hospital, but overall their care tasks are the same. A neonatal nurse is one of the primary caregivers of a baby in the intensive care unit, and often becomes the saving grace to worried parents who have plenty of questions and few answers about their situation. Below are just a few of the tasks on a nurse's daily to-do list when caring for the smallest and sickest of babies.
One of the main duties for a neonatal nurse is the general care of the infant. Babies, even tiny ones or those with physical ailments, need regular changes, feedings and cuddles. Customarily, the NICU will assign each baby "care times" throughout the day and night, usually about 3 or 4 hours apart from each other. At each care time, the nurse will change the baby's diaper, take his temperature, and feed him breast milk or formula. If a baby is receiving any medications, these may also be administered during these times.
If the parents of an infant are able to visit regularly, a neonatal nurse will teach them how to perform these basic cares. With time, nurses will help parents to feel equipped in all aspects of meeting their little one's needs and will continue to serve as a basic support system during the hospitalization.
Sometimes babies are too fragile or small to eat directly from breast or bottle. When this is the case, they are fed either intravenously, or through a gavage tube, which is a small tube that goes from the nose or mouth into the stomach. Nurses will carefully place the correct amount of formula or dietary supplementation if a baby is not yet eating, into either of these methods of nutrition, and monitors the baby for any positive or negative changes in the infant.
The duties for a neonatal nurse also include inserting and changing IVs, administering blood transfusions when necessary, and drawing blood for various testing. Nurses are able to perform many other procedures as well, and it fully depends upon each hospital's individual protocol, as well as the nurse's experience level and staff rating.
Technical Duties for a Neonatal Nurse
Regardless of their other responsibilities, all neonatal nurses do a fair bit of charting on each of their patients. This may be on a paper sheet, or more commonly every year, completed electronically via a special hospital computer system. The details logged into the online chart allow doctors, other nurses, and anyone else within the baby's medical care team to view a baby's updated health records.
A nurse may also be responsible for emailing the neonatologist (NICU doctor) or calling the parents with specific requests or information. While a neonatal nurse's priorities are found in caring for the child assigned to them, they often also spend a large portion of their shift charting and getting messages out to those who need to receive them.
A neonatal nurse often gets to know the families of infants very well, especially if they happen to have a primary baby they take care of. A primary nurse will care for the same infant for the duration of his hospital stay, whenever he/she is on shift. This works well, as the nurses become very familiar with their babies and can in turn provide them with the best care possible.
In building relationships with these families, they can often provide emotional support and comfort during scary times. If a baby has to go through surgery or is exceptionally ill, nurses are great for reassuring the parents and providing as concrete of answers as they are permitted to.
Neonatal nurses are often the unsung heroes to families and able to give the earliest of lives a fighting chance. Their daily duties add up to countless miracles and a rewarding career at the same time.